ANDREW and Catherine Browning are making the most of the country they have by lifting wool cuts and improving lambing percentages.
The mixed farmers run 1850 Merino ewes alongside a cropping program at Ivyholme, between Jerilderie and Coleambally.
The Brownings have had Merinos for more than 40 years, with Mr Browning being the second generation on the property, and the typical Riverina Merino suits their operation.
“We’ve always chased a solid, structurally sound Riverina-style Merino that cuts a lot of wool,” Mr Browning said.
“With the surge in sheep prices we’ve been trying to focus on the maternal side, as well as more opportunities with the meat market.”
The Brownings have used genetics from the Wells family’s One Oak Poll stud which was established by Catherine’s father Graham and her grandfather Alby, since 2014.
“My family was with the original One Oak stud, one of Graham’s main bloodlines, from the mid-1980s,” Mr Browning said.
“When Graham dispersed the One Oak stud in 2014, we moved to the One Oak Poll stud run by Catherine’s brother Alistair and his wife Natasha.
“They’ve always had good wools, and I’ve always been focused on trying to produce the best wool sheep that I can.”
Wool cut has been a big focus over the past few years.
“In a good season the ewes are cutting around 8kg of wool, at 20.5- to 21-micron,” Mr Browning said.
“I’ve been working on lifting wool cut since I’ve been running sheep, because it’s not a huge property (1680 hectares), so they need to be efficient. We do run at a higher stocking rate than some of the larger properties in the area, but we’re making the most of the country we have, supplemented by areas of improved pasture and irrigation.”
He has considered moving to a shorter period between shearing, but it’d have to fit in with the cropping program, he said.
“At the moment it’s a 12-month shearing. I think six months shearing could be risky here in the tight seasons, in terms of making the required staple length, and I’ve looked at an eight-month shearing but it’s hard to fit in with the cropping program.”
Mr Browning is looking to lift lambing percentages, with the goal to have more surplus ewes for sale each year, along with the wether lambs.
“We’re marking between 90 and 100 per cent, but we want to improve that.
“That’s something I’m working on with the poll rams, looking for the increase in fertility, combined with improving our management to increase lamb survival, to lift lamb numbers.
“We started scanning three years ago for singles, multiples and empties to try to modify management to maximise the feed opportunity for the multiples.”
The Brownings have also trialled supplementary feeding of the ewes prior to lambing.
“We’ve recently been playing around with feeding lupins to ewes in the month leading up to lambing, but our general approach is to try to have the ewes in at least good store condition prior to lambing, and on a rising plane of nutrition,” Mr Browning said.
“We run the sheep on a mix of native country with some run on irrigated crops and pastures, and we drench the ewes on to the stubbles over the summer which gives the native country a break and it’s good for a worm break as well.”
We do run at a higher stocking rate than some of the larger properties in the area, but we’re making the most of the country we have, supplemented by areas of improved pasture and irrigation.
He grows winter crops, including wheat, barley and faba beans, as well as canola for seed production, which is grown under a mix of flood and overhead irrigation.
“We do have a small portion of the wheat area that’s sown to grazing varieties and usually the weaner ewes will go on there to grow out.”
Wethers are sold through the November store sale at Jerilderie, at five to six months.
“They’re weaned onto irrigated pasture at the end of August and we try to get them as heavy as we can, usually 45kg to 50kg,” Mr Browning said.
“The improvement in bodyweight provided by the polls is highly noticeable.”
Classed out young ewes are sold at the John Wells Mermorial store sheep sale in Jerilderie in October.
“Our numbers have stayed static for a while, but we never have enough classed out ewes to sell, which is why we’d like to lift production without increasing numbers. I’ve historically run the place on my own with help at peak times throughout the year, so I try to have a streamlined operation, running sheep as efficiently as possible, because the cropping takes up a fair bit of time.